It Can Be Done – A Leather Strap for an Old Watch

Sometimes you don’t want something new, but just want to fix your old favorite. I had a leather watch which had been worn so much that the strap had disintegrated and one of the pins was missing. The tricky part was that the watch strap was extremely narrow at under a centimeter (half inch) so most standard watch straps were too big. But, I figured in a place like Bogota, with its leather district and leather fame, this would be something I could easily get fixed.

I did a bit of research into watch shops (called “relojeria” since the word for watch is “reloj” and it is a piece of jewelry – hence many shops are also “joyeria”s which I like to see just because it has the word “joy” in it. I imagine that they are also shops of joy). The word for watch is the same as the word for clock so I discovered quite a few shops where I could get my grandfather clock repaired. If I needed that.

One Saturday morning (as many shops are closed on Sundays and many also close around 3 p.m. on Saturdays — makes me feel like I’m in Europe in the 80s), I set out with my addresses scribbled on a piece of paper. The address was “C.C. Granahorrar L-3 – 30” so once I looked up that it was a “El Castillo Centro Comercial” and was located on the corner of Carrera 7 and Calle 72 in a neighborhood or building called “Chile,” I figured that I had sufficient information to head out. After all, Carrera 7 (Called “Septima” — the main boulevard of Bogota) is easy to find.

I thought it would be fun to walk down 15 just to see what was there. When I turned on Calle 72, I was excited to see a “centro” with the word Chile in it that I went in and walked around level 3. Twice. I went into a bookstore/wine store where it was possible to browse books while imbibing in a glass of wine. Very civilized. I finally realized that I was not in the right mall. So I made use of the facilities (which included miniature toilets for children) and headed back out.

Speaking of time, I walked past this shop with very specific opening times.
Speaking of time, I walked past this shop with very specific opening times.

When I got to the corner of 7 and 72, I looked at all four corners. Each building had a name but not the one I was looking for. I saw a security guard and went over to ask him for help. One thing I appreciate about Bogota is that most of the taxi drivers and security guards are literate so they can read an address if I show it to them. This makes it easier for a foreigner like me. (I recall many years ago, getting into a taxi in Bangkok and confidently showing a hand written address to the driver. What ensued was a lot of gestures, smiles, and yelling above the roar of the traffic as we zigzagged through traffic. Finally I grasped that he couldn’t read. He pulled up next to another taxi and indicated that I should get into the other taxi. The other taxi driver could read.) Back in present day Bogota, the guard studied my piece of paper and scratched his head (okay, no, he didn’t but if life were a cartoon, he would have) while muttering the text out loud. Finally, he said in a Eureka sort of voice, “ah, Granahorrrrrar, si!” Then he told me that the building called the Big Savings (Granahorrar) is actually on 71. He then pointed down the street and told me to walk one block. I thanked him (I’ve been to trying to use “muy amable” more as I think this sounds so nice) and confidently set off. A few blocks later, I looked up and noticed that the sign said 74. The guard had pointed me in the wrong direction.

After a good laugh, I decided to give up (I’d been walking for hours) and try another day.

A few days later, I was wasting time before a dinner when I wandered around 72 again. On a small street off of 72, I saw a sign saying “relojeria.” The shop was about the size of a mattress. When I walked in, as always, I was greeted. (Without fail, you will get greeted when you walk into a store here. I have to remember to always say “Buenas + dias/tarde/noche” every time I enter a shop or call a person or see someone for the first time that day.) In the store, I peered into the glass display counters to see if there was anything as tiny as the watch I needed fixed. I asked if they fixed watches with leather straps (a “pulso”). I asked how much it would cost. She said 3,000 pesos (about $1.50). I got a business card and said that I’d be back. The address was Carrera 10, # 72-86.

On the following Saturday, I set out. Again. When I got to the shop, the gate was down. But, next to it, was a workshop, and it was open. I walked in setting off a deafening alarm. From behind a wooden screen, a man appeared and asked what I was looking for. I explained and showed him the watch. Just then, two women entered the shop carrying a cheap purple roller suitcase. They asked if it could be fixed. The craftsman sucked through his teeth, showed them where the suitcase was broken, and then said that he would try and fix it. He added that suitcases like that were only intended to hold 20 kilos. They left the suitcase with him and left the shop.

The man then ducked under a counter and began searching through his watch straps. One after another, they were too big. More boxes were ripped open. No match. Finally, like Goldilocks, he found one that was the right size. Did I prefer it in brown or black? I chose and he set to work. He took out a pin and cleaned out the metal parts of the watch. He commented that there was lots of water in the pinholes. I explained that the watch was 40 years old. He looked at me in amazement and said that the watch was the same age as him. In two minutes, he had fixed the watch. (During our exchange, he tried to help me out with words in English but I continued in Spanish even though I appreciated his effort). The whole transaction including the new genuine leather strap cost 18,000 pesos ($9). When I gave him too much money by mistake, he gave me some back and told me to be careful.

A few weeks later, I went back with a favorite pair of shoes where the glued inner soles had worn out. When I asked him if he could fix them, he sucked through his teeth again and said, “no.” But, then he grabbed the side of the sole and ripped it out. Then he pulled out a bag of soles and while tut-tutting (not audibly), tested out different ones after the size that I told him was clearly not the size of the shoe. The total for the new soles was $7.

I asked him if he could take two pairs of shoes and combine them. He said, “It can be done” in a tone of voice that actually said, “anything is possible but it might not turn out as you imagine.”


One Week Tour of Bogota

A view of Bogota, city of eight million.
A view of Bogota, city of eight million.

I’ve had quite a few visitors recently and I’m expecting quite a few more, so I thought I’d try to get my “tour of Bogota” blog posting done before someone else asks me where they should take their visitors.

If you visit Bogota (for work perhaps) and only have one week here, this is my suggestion of what to do.

Try to visit most of the centrally located attractions after work. The old town of Bogota is called La Candelaria and in it are located the Gold Museum, the Botero Museum, Bolivar plaza, the president’s residence, and mount Montserrate (eat up there if you want). For dinner on the other nights, eat in Parque 93 (Mercado does Colombian food) and the Zona rosa (or Zona G, etc.). The part of the street around Cevicheria Central has several good restaurants including Di Luca and Agadon though they do not specialize in Colombian cuisine. A must try is Andres carne de res (or include the Chia location on Saturday’s outing if you want the loud and raucous experience), and cevicheria La Mar. Harry Sasson has interesting architecture (don’t be deceived by the dark exterior). Also, it’s hard to find but usually there’s a car parked in the jungle that constitutes their lawn. You may catch a glimpse of the politically powerful dining there. If you want to try the other Colombian chains, eat at Crepes and Waffles for lunch, Bogota Beer Company, and sip coffee (or “tinto” as it’s called here) at the coffee chains, Oma and Juan Valdez. Colombian food to try are arepas, empanadas, ajiaco, sancocho, criolla potatoes, obleas, and fresh lulo juice.

"La naturaleza" or nature, near the Guatavita Lagoon.
“La naturaleza” or nature, near the Guatavita Lagoon. This is actually a view of the hydroelectric reservoir.

Then on Saturday, hire a car and driver (some are about $12/hour . Or you can use tour companies) and go out of Bogota to the Zipaquira town (salt cathedral fame) and go up to Guatavita Lagoon (source of the El Dorado legend). Be prepared that you can only hike to the lagoon with a tour and it takes two hours. Or visit the little town of San Francisco as you enjoy the back country lanes and the beauty of Colombia’s landscape.

On Sunday, get up early (like at 6 or 7) and go see Paloquemao market. Do breakfast/brunch (from 8-12) at Club Colombia, Avenida 82, No. 9-11 (unless you want the real deal at the market), then do Ciclovia (when the streets are closed so that people can exercise).  You can include a view of Bogota from the Colpatria Tower, Avenida Carrera 7, No. 24-89, (for the view from the 48th floor, and you only have to walk up two flights of stairs), the Calle 26 flea market, the San Alejo pulgas (stalls), Carrera 7, No. 24-70, (link in Spanish), the Macarena area (includes quirky cafes like the dog café, Azimus, Carrera 5, No. 26A-64, and La Juqueteria – the playhouse, Carrera 4), the old bull fighting ring, and National Museum (Museo Nacional), Carrera 7, No. 28-66. Then take a cab up to Usaquen to walk around the adorable streets and the Sunday market (some flea but mostly artisan). Eat at La Mar for dinner.

Colorful walls in Guasca.
Colorful walls in Guasca.

If you have a second weekend, then I’d suggest going to Cartagena (even if just for one day — or add a few days just to go there). If you have more time, then visit Medellin, Cali, Santa Marta, Letitia (for an Amazon tour).

Notes: Never let your credit card out of your sight. They will be swipe it at the table with a mobile unit. If asked “cuantas cuotas?” the answer is one (unless you want to do a layaway plan for your two dollar coffee). Use an app like Tappsi to get cabs. No cab ride should be more than 35,000 ($17). Ask to use “el metro” which is the meter. It doesn’t always count in currency, instead, it’s  a code with a corresponding amount on the taxi fare chart or on the meter. Lock the doors when you are in the cab. Also, remember that the altitude may take your breath away. Heed the need for oxygen and take it slow (like sitting in meetings) for the first day or so.

One last thing about visiting Bogota. It’s always 65 F and the sun will come out almost every day. So every day is a good day to visit. All year round (okay, it rained at 2:30 p.m. every day in October and November, but the sun came out in the morning!).

Rent a horse on the shores of the reservoir.
Rent a horse on the shores of the reservoir.


Juice with Milk or Water?

In Colombia, the hot chocolate is usually made with water and the fruit juice can be made with milk. Colombia is famous for its fruit and many are served as juice. Almost every restaurant offers fresh juice and when you order it, they will ask you how you want it. For strawberry juice, I usually order it “en leche” which is “in milk.” The juice with milk reminds me a bit of a mango lassi. If the juice is tart, I usually order it in water.

Frothy juice at Andres Carne de Res restaurant.
Frothy juice “en leche” served in a bowl at Andres Carne de Res restaurant.